Cursebreaker, the second book in the Heretic Gods series is published by Shattered Soul Books, written by Carol A. Park, with cover art by Brit K. Caley. A year and a half has passed since the climactic events of Banbringer. Since then, Vaughn and Ivana have gone their separate ways. While Ivana simply seeks to leave behind the life she once lived, Vaughn has stumbles upon a mystery. A mystery that, if he’s right, may be the only way to save the banbringers from the persecution of the Conclave. But, to decipher this riddle, he needs to reconnect with an old friend.
Cursebreaker is the perfect sequel. It takes all the themes introduced in its predecessor and fleshes them out while harmoniously integrating new ones that build the world and narrative. It also does an excellent job of increasing the stakes. It does this all while building up the scale of the story so the next book is primed to go. In this way, Park has built a textbook middle-volume to her story. It even succeeds in making sure to tell its own definitive story, avoiding the danger of becoming simply a setup for what’s to come.
With the Conclave increases its stranglehold of intolerance on the core areas of the Setanan Empire, Vaughn and the rest of the banbringers must reach out to any who might help them resist the Conclave’s rule. With the mistrust and misunderstandings around the source of banbringer powers still running deep, there are a great many hurdles to overcome. It is partly for this reason that while others continue to search for allies among the kingdoms, Vaughn has decided to call on a higher power.
Having come across an old manuscript, he believes it is possible for banbringers to commune with the Heretic Gods that have given them their powers. Even if he succeeds though, what will become of this? No one has ever seen the Gods of old. Will they be concerned? Or, will they be naught but another foe awakened from a long-dormant sleep. Vaughn only knows he must find out.
While Cursebreaker continues to grow the world and story laid down before it, the true stars of these books will always be Vaughn and Ivana. Both characters feel as real and fully developed as ever. Watching each grow and struggle with both who they are and who they want to become never fails to come across as anything short of authentic. The trauma in both characters’ lives is handled amazingly by Park.
The best aspect of Park’s approach to this trauma is with both characters’ struggle to let go. Park does a wonderful job of showing how a person can analyze and process a problem and yet just not be able to move past it. Even when progress is made, relapses and stumbles occur as old habits prove hard to break. There are no quick fixes or easy revelations for the characters of Cursebreaker.
The other thing that makes Vaughn and Ivana such an interesting pair of protagonists is how much alike they are despite how different they seem. Both are faced with unfortunate situations that they never asked for. Both tried to outrun those situations through habits that could hardly be considered as healthy. With so many painful similarities, they constantly feel both perfect and terrible for each other. Perfect in that they can grasp just how much of a struggle these problems are, while also terrible due to their tendency to expect the other to be able to handle the problem the way they have.
Along with fleshing out its stars and the world around them, Cursebreaker also introduces readers to several new characters. Driskel, a scribe for a powerful nobleman, is certainly a wonderful addition to the cast. When he is first introduced he is presented as having a fairly calm life. But, once swept up into the coming chaos of the story, his life quickly becomes anything but normal.
While this isn’t a new theme for a fantasy series it feels unique given that the vast majority of the focus characters in The Heretic Gods books are already knee-deep in adventure when they are introduced. Driskel serves as a fresh perspective. His newness to the situation informs the reader of how these events feel to one new to it. I appreciated Banbringer’s skipping this by focusing on seasoned characters to allow for more fluid world building it was nice to get this perspective here.
While Driskel was the biggest new addition to the established roster, my favorite new character is his boss, Lady Nahua. While she doesn’t get too much time here, she instantly comes across as a smart, resourceful woman. Standing at her father’s right hand, helping to rule one of the provinces of the Setanan Empire, she gives off the vibe of someone who certainly has her own story to tell. I hope we get it in the next book.
There is only one place where Cursebreaker stumbles slightly for me. In order to fully involve some of the characters, circumstantial connections occur which feel, in my opinion, a bit farfetched. While I appreciate the author’s need to give all the characters a strong enough motivation to commit themselves to the cause, I wish it could’ve been done a bit better. That being said, this should be viewed as a minor problem at most.
Before I wrap up, a little side note for those who have already started the series. While Banebringer is heavily referenced throughout this story and a must-read to fully understand the events here, the prequel book Sweetblade remains a purely optional read. While objects and events are referenced, anything you need to know about them will be given to you within Cursebreaker. Reading Sweetblade simply gives you a fuller, but unnecessary, understanding.
Cursebreaker delivers an amazing character-driven tale. Its pacing is superb, its story beats strong, and the build-up to the finale is amazing. As the dust settles from this tale, it lets the reader have a strong understanding of what is to come while leaving enough room to still let the future narrative surprise. I cannot wait for what comes next.
Cursebreaker will be available on December 12th.
Cursebreaker delivers an amazing character-driven tale. Its pacing is superb, its story beats strong, and the build-up to the finale is amazing.